|Even though the non-waiver trade deadline came and went on July 31, teams continue to swing deals in what has been an active month of August. Veterans Aubrey Huff, Ivan Rodrguez and Billy Wagner all have switched teams. Now 25-year-old lefthander Scott Kazmir joins the club.
The Angels acquired Kazmir, and the $20 million over two years left on his contract, surrendering to the Rays two 21-year-old prospects as well as a third player to be named. Double-A lefthander Alex Torres and high Class A third baseman Matt Sweeney head to Tampa Bay immediately, and we’ll analyze the third player once he’s announced.
UPDATE: After clearing waivers, 24-year-old Triple-A second baseman Sean Rodriguez was included as the player to be named (Sept. 1).
|The Young Players|
|Torres has jumped to Double-A Arkansas in the midst of a breakout campaign, during which he’s gone a cumulative 13-4, 2.75 with 149 strikeouts and 80 walks in 147 innings. The rapid ascension comes as a bit of a surprise, seeing as Torres spent most of his first four pro seasons in short-season ball, reaching high Class A Rancho Cucamonga for 10 starts in ’08. He began the ’09 season back in the California League, where his 2.74 ERA still ranks as the best in the circuit—and he has enough innings to qualify for the honor if nobody surpasses him.
Torres, who signed with the Angels out of Venezuela in ’05, has experienced little attrition in dominance as he’s climbed to Double-A. After five starts, he was 3-1, 2.77 with 25 strikeouts in 26 innings for the last-place Travelers. Unfortunately, Torres walked 17 batters over those 26 innings, and he has walked a tightrope all season, issuing 4.9 free passes per nine innings on the year.
Though small in stature at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Torres’ stuff plays up considerably because of his varying arm angles and groundball tendencies. He sits at 89-90 mph with his fastball and also throws an excellent curveball featuring tight spin. Even while calling the Cal League home for most of the year, he surrendered just four home runs in 24 starts, and his groundout-to-airout ratio registered at a very strong 2.41-to-1.
A lefthanded-hitting third baseman taken in the eighth round of the ’06 draft, Sweeney cracked 18 home runs and slugged .458 in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old, second-year pro. He didn’t get a chance for an encore as an ankle injury that required surgery knocked him out for the entire ’08 season. Now in his fourth pro season out of a Maryland high school, Sweeney was batting .299/.379/.517 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 58 games for Rancho Cucamonga. Again, he’s spent a large chunk of the season on the disabled list, this time with a right hip injury.
Sweeney is not exactly a classic third base defender, not with all the time off and the lower-body injuries, but his feel for hitting and raw power might make him a viable regular there if he can stay healthy.
In the midst of his second consecutive strong season with Salt Lake, Rodriguez batted .299/.400/.616 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs in 103 games for the Triple-A Bees. Salt Lake is a very nice place to hit, and over the course of two years and 726 plate appearances there, he has batted .301/.398/.626 with 50 home runs and an 80-to-166 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Drafted as a shortstop in ’03 out of a Miami area high school, Rodriguez has a strong feel for the game and above-average power for a middle infielder. Defensively, his first-step quickness and hands are average, but he does offer a strong throwing arm.
In the big leagues, Rordriguez projects to be an average defensive second baseman who could pop 15-20 home runs annually—if his team can live with the strikeouts. In 71 big league games with the Angels in ’08 and ’09, he batted .203/.276/.333 with 62 strikeouts in 192 at-bats (about 33 percent).
|While an elbow injury last year left Kazmir a bit hesitant to throw his killer slider (just 10 percent of the time, according to data presented by fangraphs.com), he gutted through 27 starts as a fastball/changeup pitcher and even threw effectively in the postseason. In five October starts, two each in the ALCS and World Series, he went 1-1, 4.21 over 25 2/3 innings.
In 20 starts this season, Kazmir has gone 8-7, 5.92 while striking out 91, walking 50 and allowing 15 home runs over 111 innings. But beneath the surface performance, he’s resumed throwing his slider about 22 percent of the time, a figure closer to his career average. His average fastball velocity, though, has dipped from the 92-93 mph range down to 90-91.
Though his days as an ace may be over, Kazmir offers a solid arm to an Angels rotation that has been handicapped by injuries this season—not to mention the death of Nick Adenhart. Los Angeles now is covered in the event of another injury to a starter, and they won’t have to rely on rookies Sean O’Sullivan, Matt Palmer or Trevor Bell down the stretch.
For the Rays, they clear more than $20 million in payroll for a pitcher who had become increasingly inefficient and unavailable, while netting a pair of quality prospects in the process. Swimming with rotation options, Tampa Bay can turn again to Andy Sonnanstine or to Triple-A righthander Wade Davis, who already is a member of the 40-man roster.